It was a huge deal when Eddie Murphy returned earlier this year to appear on Saturday Night Live, even if he didn’t add much to the proceedings. It was a big deal because Murphy — who essentially saved SNL in the early 80s — is one of, if not the, biggest star to come out of Saturday Night Live.
The reason he never came back is rooted in a joke that David Spade made in the mid-1990s on his “Weekend Update” segment, “The Hollywood Minute,” which is basically where David Spade spent a minute burning other celebrities.
David Spade soon found out, however, that Eddie Murphy was not someone he should’ve burned, as he relayed his upcoming book, an except of which he published on Salon.
So I’m sitting in my dumpy office and I realized that Eddie Murphy had put out two back-to-back flops. … So, I casually write a joke about Eddie Murphy for my piece that week. You know the line. “Look, kids, a falling star! Quick, make a wish …”
The burn skims by on air, gets sort of a laugh mixed with an, “Ooo no you di‑int” response, and I think nothing of it. Especially because it’s buried in the middle of ten or twelve of these rapid-fire sizzles that come and go quickly.
So, on the following Monday at around 5 p.m. I was sitting in the writers’ room reading the paper and waiting for the meeting with that week’s host when an NBC page came into the room.
He looked at me a little oddly and said, “Eddie Murphy is on the phone for you.”
My heart stopped. WTF? “Um, seriously?” I squeaked.
“Yes, line two.”
“Ummmmmmmmm. I’m not here, take a message.”
Spade kept avoiding his calls until Eddie Murphy threatened to come down to SNL personally to talk to him, at which point he enlisted the help of Chris Rock, who was a mutual friend of both Eddie Murphy and David Spade.
Chris Rock then walked in and said, “You better call him; you don’t want him coming down here. Don’t forget, he’s still a black guy.”
No shit. I don’t want this guy coming to have a talk with me. Even if he’s famous. He scares me. I have no choice. So I take his number and asked Chris to get on the other phone to listen in and protect me.
I dialed …
My heart was pounding. I didn’t want to do this, especially since I had zero game plan.
A woman’s voice answered! My heart leapt! Perhaps I had dialed the wrong number.
“Um, is Eddie there? It’s … David Spade.” I’m sure my voice cracked like Peter Brady in that Brady Bunch episode where he goes through pubie.
“Hang on,” she said. Then, muffled, “It’s him.”
Stomach in knots, I heard, “Hello.”
“Hey, Eddie, it’s Spade.”
(Dramatic pause. If this was a Lifetime movie we would definitely fade to commercial at this point.)
Now here comes Eddie … “David Spade, who the fuck do you think you are?!! Honestly? Who. The. Fuck. Going after ME?? You dumb motherfucker! I’m off-limits, don’t you know that? You wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for me. Talking shit about me??” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera … on and on and on and making me feel like shit.
I barely spoke. I just stared at Rock in disbelief. It was so much worse than I had imagined. I wanted to apologize, explain the joke, anything, but nothing came out. Here was one of my favorite comedians of all time ripping me a new asshole. I had worshipped this dude for years, knew every line of his stand-up. And now he hated me. Like, really really hated me. The opposite of Sally Field.
And that’s why Murphy didn’t come back for so long. It wasn’t just that David Spade made the joke, it was also that Lorne Michaels let it go on air.
Whenever I’d see Rock after that, for years, he’d say “Saw Eddie last week. He still hates you.” It sort of impressed me that it still bugged him. In a recent Rolling Stone cover story, Eddie Murphy was asked about this infamous incident. I was told he said he was mad at everyone about this, not just me. He was mad that Lorne would let that joke through to air. He was mad that the show turned on him, and that’s why he has never hosted after that or done the reunion shows. (After that article came out he briefly appeared at the fortieth.) He says he’s over this now. I hope that’s true.
A month after that Rolling Stone story, Spade ran into Eddie Murphy on the street, shook his hand, and his “Watergate with Eddie Murphy was over.”
Source: Salon, which has the full account.